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Family of McKee’s top aide will donate controversial wetlands in Cumberland

Target 12

CUMBERLAND, R.I. (WPRI) — The family of Gov. Dan McKee’s top aide said Friday they will donate a piece of wetlands property to Cumberland after their plan to develop the land drew public scrutiny.

Ross Silva, son of McKee chief of staff Tony Silva, said his family will donate 45 Canning St., preserving the property in perpetuity as open space. Neighbors have been raising concerns about the deal and future flooding in the area if the land is developed, and the town had gone to court to block the plan.

“Unfortunately, and much to our disappointment, this process has resulted in unintended consequences that have created a distraction for my family and everyone concerned,” Ross Silva said in a statement, noting that his family has lived in Cumberland for 100 years.

“As a result, we feel badly that this has manifested itself to this point and also understand the concerns of town officials and our neighbors on Canning Street,” he added.

Silva’s change of heart came less than 24 hours after Target 12 aired an investigation into his family’s long-running effort to develop the property, which is 93% wetlands.

Back in 2019, the R.I. Department of Environmental Management rejected a previous application to develop the wetlands put forward on behalf of Tony Silva after the town and neighbors objected. Much to the chagrin of those opponents, DEM approved a revised proposal in June without a public hearing, claiming the flooding issues had been addressed.

Last month, town leaders in Cumberland filed a legal complaint in R.I. Superior Court seeking an injunction to block the development, and neighbors have questioned whether the deal received special treatment because of the people involved. The controversy was first reported by the local Valley Breeze newspaper.

“Would DEM have approved it in my name or my neighbors?” Amy Brayton, a Canning Street resident, said in a recent interview with Target 12. “Or is it just because this person is trying to buy it?”

Ross Silva officially purchased the property on July 14 after DEM approved the development plan.

Tony Silva, a longtime McKee confidant, became the governor’s chief of staff in March when he succeeded Gina Raimondo. Silva previously served in the same job when McKee was lieutenant governor.

The elder Silva told Target 12 he’s had no financial interest in the Canning Street property since assigning his purchase and sales agreement to his son in April 2020. The governor has rejected the idea that the Silva family received favorable treatment from his administration.

“My family is happy to resolve this matter in a positive and amicable way,” Ross Silva said Friday.

Tolly Taylor (ttaylor@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is an investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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